The wonderful writer Philip Pullman once said, ‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.’ I believe he’s right. There’s a primal urge deep inside each of us to express all that we have seen, done, felt and been. In other words, to tell our stories.
Writing a memoir isn’t something we do because we think we’re important or that the life we have led has any special significance, or even because it’s something we fancy doing for fun. It’s something we do because we must.
Another great writer, Maya Angelou, put it this way: ‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ A memoir is more than a creative work, a legacy or a form of expression. It’s a tangible affirmation that says, ‘I have been here, and this was my experience.’
Once it is written, others may make of it what they will. The wonder of a book is that it conveys something different to each of us, and we can never know what it will mean to someone else. But whatever others make of it once it is out in the world, for the author the memoir is infinitely precious.
The imperative to express ourselves through the written word doesn’t mean that writing a memoir is easy. Far from it; for most people it’s quite the opposite. Writing a book involves not just the discipline of regular application and the challenge of getting the words down in a sequence that makes sense, but the effort of remembering all that we want to say.
Memory works in strange ways.
It can be choosy and selective. It can jump around between years, events, people and places and it can play games with us. We hang onto some recollections and forget others. We imbue some with huge significance and downplay others. We remember an event in detail and are surprised when someone else who was there remembers it quite differently.
For all these reasons, writing a memoir is an extraordinary, complicated, often very emotional, experience. It can be cathartic, enriching and hugely satisfying. It can bring resolution and peace of mind. But it can also be like trying to tie down a butterfly; each time you think you have got to the heart of the story there is more, often seemingly just beyond reach.
This is where working with a ghostwriter helps. As you delve to rediscover the detail of the joyous, the painful, the mundane and the extraordinary, we gently prod and encourage, asking the questions that encourage you to examine and to dig deep through layers of recollection, while smoothing out inconsistencies and turning a wealth of assorted and disparate memories into a coherent, flowing whole.
Memory can be like a length of fabric that has been stored away for a long time. Some sections are intact and robust; others are frail and full of holes. The challenge is how to gently repair the fragmented sections and to connect all the parts to create a patchwork which is a thing of beauty that brings joy.